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Olympus FE-210 Digital Camera Full Review
by Ben Stafford -  4/23/2007

The Olympus FE-210 is the most entry level of Olympus’ four new entry level FE digital cameras.  It still packs in 7.1 megapixel resolution, 3x optical zoom, and a 2.5 inch LCD.  Plenty of built-in help features – a guide menu system and plenty of on-screen descriptions – provide ease of use for beginning digital camera owners.  The camera also simplifies things, maybe too much for some, by not allowing the user to change settings like the ISO or metering method.

Olympus FE-210
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The FE-210 has three “bigger” siblings, the FE-230, FE-240, and FE-250.  The FE-210 is the cheapest of the bunch, but they all have similar features.  The FE-210 is the only one that takes AA batteries.  The next step up, the FE-230, has a faster imaging processor and some addition features, like digital image stabilization edit (fixing blur post-capture).


(view large image) From L to R: FE-210, FE-230, FE-240, FE-250

NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

The FE-210 can take 7.1 megapixel images.  The maximum size of an image is 3072x2304 pixels.  There are two compression levels (SHQ and HQ) at this size, but you can also choose from 2048x1536, 640x480, and 1920x1080 (16:9 aspect ratio).

LCD

The 2.5 inch LCD on the back of the FE-210 has 154K pixels of resolution.  The display is pretty fluid and gains up or down depending on lighting conditions.  Colors are represented well.  There is no optical viewfinder of any type on this camera.

Olympus FE-210
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Zoom

The FE-210 has a 3x optical zoom lens (38 – 114mm in 35mm terms).  Eight steps along the optical zoom range provide a fair amount of control over your framing.  The lens has a maximum aperture of f3.1 at wide angle.

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

In normal focus mode, at wide angle, you can focus on objects as close as 23.6 inches.  At telephoto, this number moves to 39.4 inches.  In macro mode and wide angle, you can focus as close as 3.9 inches.  With macro and telephoto, it moves out to 23.6 inches.  In super macro mode, you can focus as close as 2 inches.

Flash

The built-in flash has a wide angle range from 0.33 feet to 12.8 feet.  At telephoto, the flash range is 2 – 6.9 feet.  The flash can be set to auto, red-eye reduction, fill (always on), and off.

Memory Media

Images can be stored on xD-Picture Card (up to 2GB) media and approximately 7MB of internal memory.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEG only.  Movies are captured as AVI Motion JPEG files.

Connectivity

There is a USB 2.0 Full Speed out jack, video out jack, and a DC in jack for an optional power adapter.

Power

The FE-210 is powered by 2 AA batteries.  It can handle standard alkaline batteries, NiMH rechargeables and lithium-ion cells.  You’ll get the best life out of the latter two types.

EXPOSURE

Auto Mode

As part of Olympus’ entry-level line-up, the FE-210 is truly just a point and shoot digital camera.  There are no other exposure modes other than auto and scene modes.  In auto mode, you can adjust the flash mode, focus mode (normal, macro, or super macro), exposure compensation, and self-timer mode (12 second timer).

There is also a digital image stabilization mode on the mode dial that is essentially an auto mode, but it will bump up the camera’s sensitivity in order to minimize blur.

If you need additional guidance with your shots, Olympus has also included their Guide system on this camera.  The Guide menu prompts you for the type of shot or effect that you want and will set the camera accordingly.

Scene Modes

There are plenty of scene modes to choose from on the FE-210.  They put three of the most popular (portrait, landscape, and night portrait) on the mode dial for easy access.  If you want more, there is a “scene” entry on the mode dial that gives you access to a larger menu of scene mode options.  You can choose from Portrait, Landscape, Night & Portrait, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Sunset, Sport, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Behind Glass, and Auction.

Movie Mode

The FE-210 can capture 640x480 movies at 15 frames per second and 320x240 at 15fps.  There is no audio captured along with the movies.  However, the upside to this is that optical zoom is available during movie capture.

Metering

The user cannot change the metering method used by the FE-210.

White Balance

The white balance setting is fully automatic on the FE-210.

Sensitivity

The FE-210 only allows itself to adjust the ISO, but it has an ISO range of 64-640.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

Really the only thing you can change during image capture is the exposure compensation.  During image playback, you can resize and rotate images.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The FE-210 is fairly compact with a pronounced battery compartment/grip on the right side of the camera.  It measures 3.5" W x 2.5" H x 1.2" D and weighs around 4.3 ounces without batteries or memory card.

Olympus FE-210
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Olympus FE-210
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Build quality is good and the controls are easy to access.  The zoom control is the ring type of control around the shutter button and is easy to operate.  The shooting mode dial makes it easy to move around various shooting modes quickly and with a glance.  In case you’re not sure, there are plenty of on-screen instructions and descriptions about pretty much everything you can do with the camera.

The front of the camera has the lens, flash, and self-timer lamp.

Olympus FE-210
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In addition to the 2.5 inch LCD, the back of the camera has two buttons along the top to switch between capture and playback modes.  The shooting mode dial is on the top right of the back.  Directly below that is the 5-way control pad.  At the bottom right is the menu button and delete button.

Olympus FE-210
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The top of the camera has the power button, zoom control, and shutter release.

Olympus FE-210
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The bottom of the camera has the battery/media compartment and tripod mount.

Olympus FE-210
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The right side of the camera has a plastic door covering the USB and video out jacks. 

Olympus FE-210
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The left side of the camera has a plastic door covering the DC-in jack.

Olympus FE-210
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Included

Olympus includes a wrist strap, quick start guide, 2 AA batteries, USB cable, video cable, Olympus Master 2.0 CD-ROM, printed basic manual, and advanced manual on CD-ROM.

PERFORMANCE

Image quality from the FE-210 was pretty average, but good for a camera that you can get for less than $150.  Color reproduction was good, exposure was generally good, but details and contrast were just a bit less than you would see from a slightly more expensive camera. Lens distortion was noticeable – both barrel distortion (straight lines bow out of the middle) at the wide angle setting and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow toward the middle).  Chromatic aberration is only a problem if you really zoom in on areas of high contrast transitions.


Barrel distortion at wide angle

Pincushion distortion at telephoto

The claimed 12.8 foot (at wide angle) flash range is pretty ambitious, but I got good results in a dark room up to about 10 feet.

The FE-210 doesn’t let you select your own ISO, but if you use the digital image stabilization shooting mode, it will boost the ISO sensitivity up to capture your shot.  In the two shots below, the camera boosted the sensitivity to ISO 400 (regular auto mode with flash) and ISO 640 (digital image stabilization mode).  You can also see the difference that the digital image stabilization mode makes.  Digital noise at these ISO settings is pretty high.

Olympus FE-210 sample image
No flash, no digital IS, ISO 400
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
No flash, with digital IS, ISO 640
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Timing/Shutter Lag

For such a budget-oriented camera, shooting performance was pretty good.  If you do a partial press first to get a focus and exposure lock, shutter lag was around 0.3 seconds.  Worst case, if you can’t do a partial press first, shutter lag was around one second.  Focus times were also around one second.  Cycle time (time between shots) was average at about 3 seconds.  During flash shots, this extends to about 5 seconds while the charge recycles.   Cycle time depends quite heavily on card speed (I was using a Fujifilm-branded M type xD-Picture Card) and battery condition (for charging the flash).  My biggest complaint with camera performance is that image playback is very slow.  Reviewing images was taking 3-4 seconds to page through each frame.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Olympus FE-210 sample image
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Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a sub-$150 camera, the Olympus FE-210 is a viable option for you.  Decent image quality and decent speed of operation are the primary plusses, in my opinion.  Another possible selling point, especially for beginning digital camera owners, is Olympus’ built-in guide system that can suggest the settings that you need to get a particular shot.  Current competitors to this camera would be the Fujifilm Finepix A700, Nikon Coolpix L10, and Pentax Optio E30.

Pros

Cons